Two seasons ago, it was the Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago and their No. 1 fan Sister, Jean, that somehow went from a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament all the way to the Final Four. Who will be the next Cinderella to dance at the NCAA tourney ball? Our college basketball previews and predictions here at Scores & Stats have identified a handful of teams that could certainly fit into the proverbial glass slipper.
New Mexico State Auburn made it to last year’s Final Four but before they could get there they had to beat a pesky New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies return four starters from last year’s WAC champion that finished with a 30-5 record.
Davidson It’s not just Stephen Curry’s alma mater anymore. Davidson returns its entire starting five which includes the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in Jon Axel Gudmundsson. He scored 16.9 points per game and teammate Kellan Grady averaged 17.3. Grady was the conference’s preseason player of the year.
All five starters shot at least 34 percent from 3-point range and 37 percent from the field. Luka Brajkovic (11.1 ppg) and Luke Frampton (10.3 ppg) were both freshman starters a year ago that averaged in double figures. Davidson looks to improve on its second-place finish in the A-10 and first-round exit from the NIT.
Harvard Ivy League co-champion Harvard also returns all five of its starters. Head coach Tommy Amaker also welcomes back Seth Towns, a junior who missed all of last season with an injury. The previous season, Towns was the Ivy League Player of the Year.
Noah Kirkwood was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year after averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game last year. The Crimson will be deep and talented coming off last year’s 19-12 finish.
Utah State The Aggies return four starters which include the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. Guard Sam Merrill averaged 20.9 points and 4.2 assists on his way to capturing MW Player of the Year honors. Neemias Queta at 6-foot-11-inches returns as the MW Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a game.
The Aggies, 28-7 last year, will be one of the biggest teams in the nation. In addition to Queta, there is 7-2 Kuba Karwowski, 6-11 Trevin Dorius, and 6-10 Klay Stall. Most college basketball previews and predictions see Utah State as one of the cinderellas that could crash this year’s Final Four party.
Western Kentucky The Hilltoppers return four players that averaged in double figures including the leader Charles Bassey (14.6 ppg). Bassey is a 6-11 former five-star recruit who flirted with the NBA after last season. He also averaged 10.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
Taveion Hollingsworth (14.4), Jared Savage (12.2), and Josh Anderson (12.1) all return from last year’s 20-14 team. Experience and depth give head coach Rick Stansbury what should be the best team in Conference USA.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.